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Christ Church Cathedral

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Founded on March 16, 1839, Christ Church Cathedral was Houston's first religious congregation and is the only one still worshiping on its original site from the days when Houston was the capital of the Republic of Texas. Its adventurous founders left the United States to build a new nation. Most were young, and many had had distinguished careers back in the States. Work to build Houston began in early 1837. The city had a theater at the end of its first year; grand balls were given; and the Jockey Club races had entrance fees up to $500! But Houston had no church. Visiting Episcopal priests wrote to The Spirit of Missions about this promising mission field. The letters ran under the caption "Foreign Correspondence" amid reports from West Africa, Constantinople, and China.

Col. William Fairfax Gray, whose church in Virginia was already 100 years old, was one of Houston's first citizens. He moved his family down to what his wife called "this precocious city." On March 16, 1839, he circulated a paper for signers "to unite together as a Christian congregation in the city of Houston - to observe the forms of worship and be governed by the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of North America." Among the 28 men who signed were the Republic's attorney general, the secretaries of treasury, state, and navy, and the Texas ministers to the United States and Mexico. The congregation received pledges of support from 45 Houstonians, including Secretary of War Albert Sidney Johnston and Houston's founder, Augustus Allen. Legend held well into this century that the Allen brothers gave Christ Church its land, the half block facing Texas Avenue. In fact, it was bought for $400 and painfully paid for, bit by bit.

The Rt. Rev'd Leonidas Polk visited Houston as the first missionary bishop from the United States to any foreign field. The Episcopal Church, itself recovering slowly from the revolutionary distrust of the king and of the king's church, gave the struggling Houston mission little help. Christ Church's first rector was the Rev'd Charles Gillett of Connecticut. He led the congregation to build its first church building in 1845. It faced Fannin, was built of bricks, and had gates to the pews. The Rt. Rev'd George Washington Freeman, who had been elected Bishop of the Southwest with provisional charge of the church in Texas, consecrated the building in 1847. The new church building, he wrote, "is too small by at least one half, the congregation having rapidly increased during the progress of the building." After scarcely more than a decade, Edwin Fairfax Gray, state engineer and Col. Gray's son, was called on to design the charming second church that would face Texas Avenue. He thought it could be built for $14,000 if they gave up the basement. The cornerstone was laid in 1859. As they were laying out the structure, a cattleman driving a herd of cattle down Texas Avenue on the way to Kansas City stopped to ask what they were doing. Told they were going to build a church, he roped a steer and gave it as a contribution. A steer's head is now a part of the Diocesan Seal.

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